We finally left the Rousseau boatyard at Moret-sur-Loing feeling content with all the work they did, even though it took a long time… and we haven’t received the bill yet!
Since our last blog we have travelled:
- From Moret-sur-Loing to Montargis on the Loing: (http://www.european-waterways.eu/e/info/france/canal_du_loing.phpdd)
- From Montargis along the canal de Briare to Briare
- We are now heading along the canal lateral a la Loire – more in our next blog.
The slightly annoying challenge for us now, given we have our boat mechanics well and truly under control, is Stewart’s Invacare TDX SR power wheelchair. It’s been making clunking noises and it seemed at first that the problem could be a wheel bearing in the front caster wheel as it would also vibrate and feel to Stewart like he was driving over rope. No problem, we said. We have a spare caster and with the assistance of our on-board lifter could raise the wheels on one side and pop the spare on. Sadly, that wasn’t the problem. So a key destination for us is Roanne where there is an Invacare service centre.
Our first stop after our boatyard confinement was at Nemours. We found that the wheelchair’s problem was intermittent so we decided to risk using it and headed off in the rain to tour town. Being held up in Moret for way too long we were starved of off-board adventure and this was our chance; Perhaps a visit to the Chateau, browsing around town at the old buildings and lunch.
First, as we often do, we called in at the Tourist Office in a classic historic half-timber building close to the Jean Baptiste church and by the river.
We are always genuinely interested in what they can tell us about the town and in particular what is accessible. The friendly lady at this one highlighted on a list which restaurants were accessible (in the region), not many, and unfortunately she couldn’t make any suggestions for accessible museums. Talking to Tourist Officers is a process we like to go through because we hope to slowly educate them about their town and to get them thinking about what’s wheelchair accessible.
To date we haven’t had much success we think.
Lunch, we said to each other .. then disaster struck. The chair stopped and would not go again. The fault sign showed on the control panel and try as we did to restart it, for twenty minutes or so, no luck. So in the end it had to be pushed. Like most power chairs you can push it like a manual chair, but it’s very heavy (almost a quarter of a ton with passenger) and ungainly in this mode. At one of the crossings we became stuck in the gutter and a lady waiting for us to cross jumped out of her car and helped push us out of it and onwards. Going up the hill of the bridge over the canal, almost back to the boat, was tough. But we made it. Then getting on board was very tricky with no breaks in free wheel mode.
The bank was higher than the boat so it was a downhill access but we avoided plunging straight through and out the other side into the canal. Then we almost didn’t survive getting down the internal ramp .. again we made it. We tell all of this as now it’s behind us we can laugh.
But it is serious too. Without the chair life is totally boring for Stewart, and without Stewart for me too. To help solve our problem we rang the lovely Greg, an IT guru from Invacare America’s head office who’d talked us through problems before using an SD programming card which came with the chair. Conversation with Greg makes us feel like he stretches his arm through the telephone line and puts it around our shoulders as he talked through resetting the drive wheels. We had to put the back casters on the ramp and lift it so the middle wheels were off the ground. Quite a feat. Unfortunately this process done, there was no change. Greg believes we probably have a motor problem which means a new one.
In our usual way, we stay positive and get on with what we can do: heaps! At the next gorgeous town, Montargis, we risked the chair once again as Greg had told us if we let the motor cool for half-an-hour or so it should start and carry on again. We just managed to get by but have decided that’s the last time until we can get it repaired in Roanne.
On again to Montbouy, less than 30 kilometres away, but that was as far as we could go until VNF (Waterways of France) let us through as the river was in spate. We bought fresh eggs from the lady by the canal with her umpteen Yorkshire Terriers all yapping crazily. She had five full-grown, three gorgeous 3-month old puppies, and five seven-day olds! It’s a pretty little village, one old church, the egg and Yorkie producer, an almost falling down ‘lavoir’ (wash house) and not much more.
We were lucky to move on the next day, unlike our neighbours who’d been waiting four days and were trying to get to the Med within a week. Admittedly, theirs was a sea-going cruiser with 250 horse power engine.
At Rogny Stewart couldn’t disembark (manual or power chair) as the quay was too high (a relatively rare event) but when we left the next day for Briare, through the first of the set of relatively new locks we had a fantastic view of the ancient (built in 1605) ‘Sept Ecluses Henri IV’.
This ancient set of a seven-staircase lock system was the first of this type to be built in Europe. It amazed us that these sophisticated systems were being built that long ago.
We were becoming used to quiet towns and a rather solitary time, a little bit worried about straying too far from the boat because of the wheelchair’s problem. So we were not terribly optimistic about the town of Briare coming up, although we’d been told it was well worth stopping in the centre of town. To do this we had to take the old Briare canal, at the point where the canal lateral de la Loire takes over, and travel three kilometres or so using three locks to enter the port. When we telephoned to make a reservation we had to press the Harbourmaster to let us in.. he had to “think about it”. And a day later we called back to be given the good news, “we have a place for you”.
Several lock-keepers along the way (before the turn-off) and the Capitaine had asked, “what is your draft” .. the answer is 0.8 metres (not much). The sign at the head of the ancient Briare states, Depth 1.2 metres, so no problems. However, our reserved mooring was through the final lock where the depth, we were told, was one metre. No problem, we thought.
We could see with our depth sounder we had virtually nothing beneath us, so one metre seemed a bit generous. And when we went towards the quay to moor in our reserved spot, we found we were ‘stuck’ on the mud from about one metre away from the side. No matter what we did we were not getting close enough because of the depth.
It was very apparent that this was a can do port, with Richard (assistant harbourmaster) and Patrice (neighbouring boater) tugging ropes and we finally brought her in close enough to put down the mighty ramp to bridge across the wide gap. Phew, we thought. Patrice slightly perspiring, retired to his boat with the words “if you need anything, I’m just two boats along”. Then I realised with Richard that the width of the quay was not enough for the wheelchair so we couldn’t get off the quay anyway! That was enough for one day; we decided to sleep on it.
Meanwhile Richard gave us a very glossy kit of information, including an order form for the boulangerie and details of their herb garden (help yourself). How lovely. Richard returned to tell us ‘they’ (he’d been talking with a bunch of neighbours) will help lift Stewart up the bank tomorrow .. we said, very kind but no thank you.
A little while later we had a knock on our window and Mike came on board to introduce himself. He and his wife Rosaleen winter here on board ‘Aquarelle’. We chatted about the depth here, yes, it varies and this spot is shallow, he said.
Briare has to be the friendliest port we have come across, other than the Arsenal in Paris. The following morning, the harbourmaster came along with our croissants and baguette (ordered on arrival) and told us he’d arranged for us to move to the other side of the port, to moor inside Mike and Rosaleen. Here we had access for the wheelchair (the manual one or risking an occasional short distance usage of the power chair) and no depth problems. We met many more neighbours here in port including John and Judy, fellow Aussies, on board ‘Vivienne’ who have also spent many winters here but return to the Gold Coast for most of it.
It’s a lovely town; we can see why it’s a popular port for a winter stay. I wandered around the disused sections of canal and banks of the Loire and came across what looked like a mound of waste ceramic tiles and mosaics. Assuming this was in fact a rubbish tip for the old factory I’d read about I picked up a few souvenirs. Many days later, well past Briare, I was Googling around (as we do) and found a blog all about the buttons of Briare found in this old tip.
Read more about the rare Briare buttons found in the tip .. from this article in the jewelrymakingmagazines.com. The factory is still going but doesn’t make buttons these days, mostly they specialise in mosaics.
Given our wheelchair problems we didn’t get to visit the Briare museums, one being all about the heritage of the ceramic factory, but we did eat at the popular quay-side restaurant ‘le petit St Trop’ (which I originally read as le petit trop, and mistranslated it to “the little too much”, actually quite an apt description!). Our plan is to revisit, perhaps next year.
With a lovely bag of fresh herbs from the Capitainerie, we pottered on back up the three kilometres, through the three locks and turned onto the canal lateral a la Loire where another historic waterway treat awaited us, the Briare Aqueduct, 663 metres long.
Built in 1896 it was the longest aqueduct in the world until the Magdeburg ‘water bridge’ was opened in Germany in 2003. The fourteen piers which support a single steel beam carries a steel channel which contains more than 13,000 tonnes of water in which we float. This single steel beam is hard to imagine, and wasn’t built by Eiffel (of the tower fame, he was responsible for the piers) but by Dayde & Pille of Creil, a place we know well from last year’s travels along the Oise.
We’re now well past the aqueduct and have used several since then with the Loire and various tributaries passing beneath us, but we will report on that in our next blog.
We are now relishing, at long last, a full-on spring with the last few days in glorious sunshine. The cherry trees are laden with blossom, canal banks speckled with vibrant colours of wild flowers amongst the emerald-green grass which has been allowed to grow a little long before the season’s machines kick in to tidy everything up.